Photography Tips

Share Your Colors: The Birdwatching Photographer

Share Your Colors: The Birdwatching Photographer

Meet the artist who ditched his career as a geologist to travel the world shooting dazzling portraits of colorful birds.

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Before becoming a wildlife photographer in 2016, Ondřej Prosický was a geologist. “Photography was just my hobby,” he says. But, after having a family, he had to decide: “What do I want to devote my time to professionally?”

He grabbed his camera, switched careers, and now earns a living selling photos and prints, giving lectures, leading photography workshops, and traveling the world with clients. (He travels monthly, for one or two weeks at a time, depending on where he’s going.)

Although Prosický, who’s based in the Czech Republic, shoots all sorts of wildlife, he started out photographing birds and remains a passionate birdwatcher. “It’s relaxing for me,” he says. “Lately, I more often set off with just the binoculars to watch birds.”

Pelican
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

I was inspired to pick up a camera because …  [I wanted] to show animals and nature to others. I’ve gotten to go places where not everybody can get and see animals about which many people have never heard. I thought, and still think, that if a person sees an interesting animal or a beautiful piece of landscape, he or she will desire to protect it.

I’m drawn to birds because … I like all wild animals, but when I started taking photos, birds were accessible to me. Photographing mammals or reptiles, for instance, requires much experience, and it is quite rare to encounter them.

My favorite birds are … hummingbirds (biological family Trochilidae). I am fascinated by the hummingbird’s colorfulness, activity, life manifestation—and, last but not least, the splendid biotope they live in. I have shot 140 out of 340 kinds of hummingbirds.

Brown Inca Hummingbird

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Violet Hummingbirds
Images via Ondřej Prosický.

I study birds because … I don’t believe somebody can be a good photographer of birds without studying their way of behavior and enjoying each moment they are with them in the wild.

For example, when I started shooting, I thought it was impossible to take a photo of owls in the wild. After about five years of studying their behavior in their biotope, setting off to find them with the help of ornithologists, I learned all I needed to photograph all kinds of European owls.

Ural Owl

Long-eared Owl
Images via Ondřej Prosický.

The most challenging part about photographing birds is … the studying. You have to [learn to] recognize all kinds of birds, where they live, when they are active, and all their voices. Unfortunately, it is not sufficient just to study or get information from the internet. Experience from the field (optimally with a biologist who’s studied birds all his life) is much more efficient.

My tips for getting a good bird shot is … I offer five of them in my photography workshops:

1.Motive. An attractive bird will grab the viewer’s attention more easily than a less attractive one. That’s why my shots of toucans and parrots are better sellers on Shutterstock than my shots of birds of blended colors, like leaf warblers or tree pipits.

Scarlet Macaw
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

2. Light. If I am not photographing birds directly at dawn or sunset, I prefer overcast. I don’t like big contrast in sharp sunshine—the photographs don’t look nice.

Red-crowned Cranes
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

3. Action. Something should be going on in the image, a story. Birds fighting, mating, eating food. Sometimes outstretched wings, a raised talon, or just feathers slightly lifted by wind may be enough. A shot of a flying bird is always very attractive.

Barn Owl
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

4. Composition. I don’t mean the rule of thirds stated in textbooks. A shot should always respect the whole content. I don’t have problem with a central composition if the bird is shown in detail.

Toucan
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

5. Setting. I always prefer photographing birds in their natural environment, although this is not very [good] for selling in photo banks because the animal in the shot is too small. But, the more illustratively you can see where the photographed bird lives, the better.

Every project starts with … Inspiration. It is very important for me. When I find an interesting animal living in a nice biotope, I start to think about an inventive way of photographing it. I study all about the given kind of bird and [its habitat] to know in which conditions and in which part of the year it is best to photograph it.

As soon as I [commit] my journey to my personal organizer, there is no way back. I buy the air tickets, rent a car, and reserve accommodations. When all that is finished, I start to think about suitable photographic gear.

Blue-naped Chlorophonia
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

Besides the obvious, you’ll find the following in my camera bag … Some high-quality binoculars (Zeiss Victory Pocket 10×25) and a small portable loudspeaker. Playing bird voices can lure some kinds of birds nearer. Indispensable to me is my Apple iPhone, where I loaded all encyclopedias of birds with their voices. I also have a small compass in my bag—maybe just for good luck.

Hummingbirds
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

My favorite lens is currently … the Sony FE 600mm F4 GM OSS. In my opinion, it’s the best lens for photographing birds among all rival brands. Its biggest advantage is its small weight, ideal focus for photographing birds, fast focusing, and perfect optical qualities when using Sony FE 2x teleconverter (with final focus 1200mm). Combined with the mirrorless camera Sony Alpha, you’ve got the best set for photographing birds.

Common Buzzard
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

My advice to aspiring wildlife photographers is … to not deal with photographic gear, but to read about the animals and watch them in the wild as much as possible. After more than a thousand photographers have taken part in my workshops or traveled with me to the wild, I dare to say that it can be very helpful to be accompanied by a person experienced in animal photography, too. It can save many years of attempts and mistakes, which [is what I experienced] when I was starting with photography as a self-learner.

American Flamingos
Image via Ondřej Prosický.

Many photographers make the excuse that they don’t have time and appropriate gear, but in my opinion, the most important thing is simply to want. Just to get up at midnight, pack one’s gear, get in the car, clamber up the locality, and believe that now the encounter with his or her dream [bird] will turn out well.

If you are angry coming back from the wild because you didn’t capture anything, you will never be a good photographer. When I don’t manage, I am pleased to have a reason to return again.   

Cover image via Ondřej Prosický.

The post Share Your Colors: The Birdwatching Photographer appeared first on The Shutterstock Blog.

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